I work as a lecturer at a university here in California. I teach history to young people and I love it. I feel that learning about history is a very important part of learning to be tolerant. It helps us, amongst other things, to learn that homophobia and intolerance is historically an aberration. It was only really in the middle of the twentieth century that western society came to see same sex relations as something that it couldn’t tolerate and wished to stamp out. Before this, many indigenous cultures had a celebrated and specific role for both gay and trans gender people. Judeo- Christian inflected Western culture had a tolerance of gay and trans people which, whilst not perfect was at least not the violent repression and rejection we associate with them today. Only as we began to evangelize and to colonize did the west begin to engage in a more codified and narrow moral network. Now, we’re making progress in returning to the tolerance we have historically seen as normal. We still have progress to make to equality, which is not the same as tolerance, and even celebration. But repression isn’t tradition, it’s an aberration.
In my role as a professor I encounter countless young people. Increasingly I encounter young people who identify as transgender. It always interests me how the students chose to talk to me about this and I figured this was a good place to discuss that with an expert audience.
In most cases a student will come to me in private, often in my office, and tell me that they identify with a certain pronoun. I tell them that’s cool and we discuss how to best deal with it in the class. In other cases the students don’t feel comfortable telling me, which I understand, and I find out from one of their friends. Very occasionally a student will announce to the whole class. This is a brave move, even in California in 2017.
So, I wonder, trans readers—how do you deal with these group situations? And if you were in the teaching position how would you try to ensure that the class used the correct pronouns? In every instance, the best way to proceed is the way the person in question is most comfortable. But I am interested in helping my colleagues who have less comfortable relations with their students and aren’t of a similar age (I just turned 30, I still have many students who are older than me). Do you have stories about good and bad group experiences you’ve had as a gay/ trans / queer person? We’d love to hear them.
Finally, I would like to ask another question to my readers which I also ask to my students. In my class on nations and nationalism I always ask if there is or can be an LGBTQ nation. Clearly, a nation need not have a state (i.e. Quebec or the Basqueland) and it does need boundaries (that’s why there isn’t a linux nation) but the LGBTQ+ community is bounded, it shares a sense of identity and a shared past and a common future. It has heroes, myths and symbols. So what do you think can it be a nation? Is the most important “we” in your life the LGBTQ+ we?
Let us know, we love hearing from you.